Wrestling with ReadingMay 28, 2007
One fortunate fact about me is that I enjoy reading. I say fortunate, because as we all know, pastors have lots of it to do. But I do frequently wrestle with what to read. I often struggle with getting my ‘extra reading’ right (that is, reading beyond sermon prep) both in terms of quantity and quality.
So here are two main questions that I wrestle with:
i) How much time should I give to extra reading? I sometimes feel guilty and paralyzed by some suggestions that pastors should give two hours every day to extra reading! John Stott suggests an hour, which for me is still a hefty challenge.
I’ve appreciated John Piper’s advice to read in 20 minute slots. By this method I find that I can accumulate reading time gradually. So I try to read for 30 minutes every afternoon, 20 minutes on the bus and for another 20 or 30 minutes at bed time. In this way I get through a reasonable amount.
Holiday times are best since I have long stretched of uninterrupted time to read. Often I get through several books in a week’s break, and since I’ve been uninterrupted in my focus these books usually have the biggest impact. I’m logging the books I read this year to see (out of interest) how many I get through. Steve Weaver reaches for 52.
2) What books should I read? This is the perennially tough question. My own choice has been governed by a few commitments – which are not set in stone – but have helped me to narrow the wide range of choices.
i) To mainly read solid, biblical, evangelically orientated works. This is not because I don’t see the value in reading opinions which differ from my own. It is rather because my time is so limited, and that reading books with considerable truth packed into them makes me more adept at sniffing out error in any case. That said, I read the odd book that I almost totally disagree with, just to keep me sharp.
ii) To read a balance of books. My personal approach is to read a blend of books including straight theology, biography, biblical studies, and works on preaching. (I’m sorry, but I don’t do novels, except the occasional CS Lewis!). At the moment, for instance, I’m reading through Charles Hodge – Systematic Theology, Steve Lawson – The Expository Genius of John Calvin and Kirsten Burkitt – The Essence of the Reformation. I don’t always get the balance right, however.
iii) To read books relevant to things I’m thinking about. This seems obvious, but if I’m doing an extra lecture (as I was two months ago) on the issue of miraculous gifts in the church today, I will often select a book on that topic for my extra reading. For future reading, I’m sizing up a good book on humanity being made in God’s image, since I’m speaking on that later this year.
Yet even with these three criteria, I still wrestle. There is so much worthy of reading. I wonder what processes you go through in terms of book selection?